K12 - MP: Democracy is in the Eye of the Beholder - Differing Visions of Participatory Success
Date: Jun 3 | Time: 02:00pm to 03:30pm | Location:
Session Abstract: The integration of participatory practices into public decision-making is widely accepted in public administration circles as a best-practice for facilitating responsive policy and fostering public engagement (ex. Fischer, 2006; Pateman, 2012). Participatory innovations in public decision-making emerge from an interest in engaging typically excluded perspectives, but whether these innovations actually attain a meaningful degree of democratization is a matter of perspective. While support for participatory governance is almost universal, more complex questions arise when considering how the goals of participatory practices are understood in design, sought in implementation, and defined in evaluation. In other words, the question of “to what end?” prompts a critical reflection on how the objectives of participation are determined and assessed. These questions are indeed pressing as the term ‘participatory’, in both literature and public discourse, is applied to initiatives ranging from status quo to transformative. The current popularity of participatory involvement presents an opportunity for an interdisciplinary discussion among scholars and practitioners on how the success of participatory involvement is conceptualized. This panel invites contributions that critically examine the notion of success in participatory governance. What are the various motivations behind participatory innovations and how is the impact of participation measured? Do community participants, government and other stakeholders adhere to different definitions of success? How are conflictual goals negotiated through the process? Whose narratives are presented in final reports? Through collaborative discussion, this panel will contribute to debates in public policy and public administration concerning the possibilities and limitations of participatory democratic initiatives.
Competing Visions of Success: Participatory Budgeting in Chicago, IL and Hamilton, ON.: Laura Pin (University of Guelph)
Abstract: Participatory budgeting is a participatory democratic process where people affected by a public budget determine how it should be allocated. Based on fieldwork conducted in 2016, including interviews with elected officials, staff, and residents, this paper examines how different stakeholders in Chicago and Hamilton’s participatory budgeting projects understood the success of these processes. Focusing on three neighbourhoods in two cities, the paper argues that often residents and elected officials held conflicting understandings of ‘success’ in the context of participatory budgeting, stemming from disagreements about the goals of the process in terms of inclusion, democratization, and efficiency. Despite pretensions of resident autonomy, in moments of conflict power inequities between elected officials and residents became apparent, as the alderman or councillor exercised control over the narrative and future direction of the participatory budgeting process. In both the 22nd ward in Chicago, and the 2nd ward in Hamilton, concerns over the strategic consequences of participatory budgeting led to the discontinuation of the process despite ongoing, if uneven, resident support. In the 49th ward in Chicago, concerns over the public representation of the process, led to reluctance on the part of the alderman and his staff to address ongoing racial tensions. These conflicts speak to the limitations of participatory democratic initiatives stewarded primarily by elected officials, who may mobilize particular narratives of success to justify or undermine these processes.
The Midas Touch of Golden Engagement: A Critical Discussion on the Use of Participation as Best Practice: Wesley Petite (Carleton University)
Abstract: Participatory budgeting has spread across the world with endorsements on various levels of governance. Amidst this success, Pateman (2012) calls for analysis of the degree to which participatory budgeting actually democratizes existing authoritative structures. A bearing on this question can be found in the formation and evaluation of official goals that frame the success of participatory initiatives. The call for increased resident involvement is often based on the belief that government decision-making is not sufficiently informed by ground-level knowledge (McFarlane, 2011). Participatory budgeting has been shown to involve typically marginalized groups in a process of decision-making, however, the range of participatory decision-making has been found to be significantly limited by the prevailing authority of pre-existing priorities (Pin, 2017; Su 2019). This paper will problematize the irony that while goals of participatory initiatives may aspire to new heights of collaboration, the priorities underlying the goals and evaluation of these initiatives are significantly similar to non-participatory processes. This elucidates a dialectic of participation that has been identified by those researching participatory budgeting and other forms of participatory planning (Flyvjerg, 1996; Purcell, 2009; Rossmann and Shanahan, 2012). While this analysis may be democratically normative, analysis of prevailing limitations to a fuller involvement of the participant perspective enables a direct confrontation with structural factors of urban governance. Using a case study in Toronto, this article draws from interviews with city staff, elected officials, and participants, as well as analysis of evaluations conducted on a participatory budgeting pilot project by the City Manager’s Office.
Designing for Participation and Intersectionality: Articulating a Muddle of Procedural and Substantive Commitments : Leah Levac (University of Guelph)
Abstract: Focused particularly on impact assessments associated with resource extraction projects, this paper considers how procedural commitments to broad public engagement and participatory democracy facilitate and/or sit in tension with both procedural and substantive commitments associated with intersectionality, understood here as including the redress of inequalities and the advancement of social justice (Bilge & Collins, 2016). This is a pressing question because of Canada’s recent adoption of the new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69), which includes “the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors” as a mandatory factor for consideration in impact assessments. The paper builds on two recent studies – one focused on international examples of participation and engagement processes and practices that attend to the inclusion of Indigenous women, youth, LGBTQ+ folks, and others often excluded from impact assessment processes (Stienstra, Levac & Manning, in progress), and the other focused on Indigenous women’s experiences in impact assessment processes that have been undertaken in present-day Canada (Manning, et al. 2018). Drawing on key informant interviews and two broad scoping reviews associated with the above-mentioned projects, the paper examines the extent to which policy objectives reasonably associated with intersectionality are experienced by public participants, and/or expressed in local and international descriptions and practices of public participation related to impact assessments. Positing that substantive goals associated with intersectionality should be considered integrally important to successful participatory governance, the paper concludes with how we can think about the incorporation of participatory democracy commitments into public policy development into the future.
Evaluating Participatory Policy-Making in Toronto: A Systemic Approach: Nick Vlahos (PhD) (York University)
Abstract: The evaluation of participatory policy-making has been challenging because of its near universal acceptance within the mainstream of governance. While it is indeed a good thing that participatory policy-making is actively sought by different levels of government, it involves the polysemy of terms conditioning how participatory policy-making is conducted (Papadopoulos and Warin, 2007). There is no universal application or agreed upon understanding of what ‘participation,’ ‘inclusion,’ and ‘meaningful’ means in the context of participatory policy-making, as utilized by different public agencies, government bureaucracies, and political institutions. This makes it a challenge to collect and discern the relevance of data when there is no single ‘best practice’ or method to participatory policy-making. Nonetheless, a recent analytical approach to evaluating participatory policy-making comes from a systemic lens, offering a consistent way to examine qualitative case-studies (Niemeyer et al. 2015). In this approach, we can understand how participatory policy-making fits within core indicators such a ‘deliberativeness,’ ‘inclusion,’ and ‘consequentialness.’ Moreover, from a systems perspective, we should study the inter-relation between different forms of deliberative institutions and connect them into a broader, more holistic and comprehensive appreciation of how different sites of deliberation and participation intersect with other scales and processes. This paper utilizes Niemeyer et al.’s analytical framework to evaluate two examples from the City of Toronto (i.e. the very recent Special Committee on Governance, and the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy’s Planning Tables) to appreciate how public engagement is designed to inform the direction of policies as well as strategic priorities.